Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Sartorial note

Evening dress, in the form of a black coat with tails and black bow tie, has its last refuge in the odd couple of the High School Prom and the Orchestra. Composers tend to dress somewhat downward, as a class, but a class with many sub-class distinctions. I'm always impressed to look at the web pages of big US music faculties, to gaze upon the (still mostly male) tweed-and-tied composition professorate, and I have a special fondness for pictures from the 1950's and '60s, especially those of composers gazing at tape recorders, oscillators, and wall-unit-synthesizers, looking very stern, but proper, in their narrow black ties. But that's certainly more of the past -- I remember as a kid in the late 1960's that it was simply expected that one dressed up to fly in a plane or go to dinner in a restaurant of any sort -- and that has changed a lot. Cage was definitely among the first to challenge the tie standard with a taste for ties a bit more adventurous than the standard black (a taste he shared with Boulez), and his transition, via American denim, to French laborers' blue uniforms, was something of a landmark in composerly attire. One might also mention Stockhausen's affection for white Mexican cotton shirts, or La Monte Young's wardrobe moves from '50s hipster to Indian cottons to his latest magenta biker look.

Although I own a number of ties, I haven't worn one in several years, with my stock aging nicely in a moth-free environment, waiting to come back into fashion. I believe that the last one was a bolo tie (my grandfather, born on a ranch near Paso Robles, has always worn them, so I come by the affectation honestly; Jim Tenney also favored bolos).

Generally speaking, I keep my shoes on for concerts. My graduate school, Wesleyan, is well-known for its program in world music, and many concerts are held in the World Music Hall, which was built without chairs, but with a terraced and carpeted seating area instead, in order for the audience to sit comfortably on the floor. (Sitting on the floor and new music are often combined -- Boulez had "pillow concerts" with the NY Phil, Morton Feldman liked to invite guests to his home to listen along while lying -- like beached whales -- on some of his precious anatolian carpets). For most events in the World Music Hall, especially the extraordinary concerts of South Indian and Javanese music, audiences and performers alike were unshod. As a student in the experimental music area, I used to joke that we were the ones who kept our shoes on, but when we had concerts in the World Music Hall, gazing sternly into our tape recorders, mixers, and oscillators, our audiences still had to go shoe-less.

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